If you told Newcastle fans at the start of the season, that twelve games in, they would only be one point behind champions Chelsea, they’d have likely bitten your hand off. This is exactly where the Magpies find themselves, albeit at the wrong end of the table. Earning only ten points from their first dozen games is a poor return for a team that boasts some very promising players and some of the best fans in the United Kingdom.
Manager Steve McClaren was expected to turn around the awful form that saw John Carver relieved of his duties at the end of last season. This form continued, though, and the Toon army were made to wait until match day nine for the team’s first win of the season and currently sit two points above the relegation zone in 17th place.
The additions of Georginio Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Chancel Mbemba gave them three young players with experiences in Champions League and at international level and whilst Wijnaldum has been one of the few shining lights on Tyneside, the rest of the squad has been very underwhelming. A victory against the run of play away at Bournemouth last weekend has given fans a moment of relief but the future does not offer too much promise. The performances have been less than inspiring and if they continue in that vein, then they could well be facing another run in with the relegation zone.
Can they turn it around?
One issue that the team has had in the last few years, as with most teams, is with injuries to key players. Tim Krul has been ruled out for the rest of the season and Rob Elliot is now the man between the sticks. Krul has been an ever present for the last few years and has been responsible for the team earning a number of points, notably in the performance away from home at Spurs last season. However, this season, his eight appearances saw only one clean sheet whilst conceding an average of 2.13 goals per game, with his saves per goal sitting at a meagre 1.56.
Since Krul’s injury, Elliot has kept two clean sheets in four with a masterful display keeping Bournemouth at bay last time out. He has conceded an average of 1.25 goals per game and despite his clean sheets, he has only made an average of 1.40 saves per goal. This begs the question: should Newcastle sign a new goalkeeper in January? Even though Elliot has been in good form, is he good enough to keep the team in the division? The team’s run into the new year could be a lot worse but these games will be a true test of Elliot’s true abilities and could put McClaren’s job on the line.
The goalkeeper may not be the only issue because the number one is only as good as his back four. Let’s face it, the back four has been very unsatisfactory and they have shipped 22 goals including six at Manchester City and three against bitter rivals Sunderland. Mbemba has been the standout defender in terms of his performances and he needs the support of the rest of the back line if the team is to ebb the flow of goals against them. They have gone the last two games without conceding but with Leicester and in form Jamie Vardy coming to St. James’ Park this weekend, they are sure to face a tougher ask than Bournemouth and Stoke.
The other major problem facing the Magpies is the lack of goals being scored. Georginio Wijnaldum, as an attacking midfielder, leads the scoring for the club with six Premier League goals, four of which came against Norwich, where they won 6-2. This is slightly worrying considering they have only managed 13 goals in their opening twelve fixtures, meaning that in the other eleven games they have managed only seven goals. Papiss Cisse is shooting with only 43% accuracy which is far below expectations. Last season Cisse was hitting the target 58% of the time and provided a goal every two games. Ayoze Perez has been very lively but has only netted three times in ten appearances. At the same time, new signing Mitrovic has only managed to score twice in his ten appearances, which makes his £15 million transfer fee seem a little lofty. The Serbian forward has supposedly set his sights on Alan Shearer’s club record 206 goals but he will need to improve his 43% shot accuracy if he is to pose a serious threat.
I certainly believe that Newcastle have the capability to get themselves out of this hole but the whole team needs a serious boost. They seem to be lacking confidence at this point in time and a change in management may seem hasty given McClaren’s summer arrival but it could prove to be just what the team needs. On the other hand, I would like to see McClaren given time to implement his style and philosophy. The players at the club have a lot of ability and if he can get the best out of players, such as Moussa Sissoko and Siem De Jong, then they have a real chance of rocketing up the table. De Jong has had a number of difficulties with injuries since arriving from Ajax last summer and a return to fitness and form could prove a real asset for the club. Another player I would like to see more from is Florian Thauvin. He arrived from Marseille this August and has struggled to adapt to life in the north east. He has been used sparingly so far but if he is to get into some of the form seen in Ligue 1, he could become a fan favourite and a very important player in the battle for survival.
The team will likely look to invest in new talent in the January transfer window but it will be a real test to find suitable players at the right price. Players like Jack Colback are real fan favourites because of their grit and determination so a few additions who offer a similar style of play could provide the foundation for a successful escape. As it stands, I see them going into 2016 as relegation candidates but they also have everything it takes to survive. In my opinion, it is going to be a question of desire and motivation as to whether they make it happen.